Parmigiana, also called parmigiana di melanzane or eggplant parmesan, is a traditional part of Sicilian cuisine, although its Italian region of origin is highly debated.
I grew up eating this dish and it became a favorite of mine; no wonder then that the taste and smell of it brings me nostalgic feelings.
The process of making parmigiana is easy and although it can be somewhat time consuming, the final outcome is absolutely worth every second you put into it.
The Americanized version of parmigiana di melanzane that is served here in the US is not really anything like the Italian recipe…I would venture to argue that it is not the same dish.
American recipes for eggplant parmesan involve coating thick slices of eggplant in breadcrumbs and baking or frying them prior to assembly in a casserole dish.
They usually call for twice as much sauce, and a lot of herbs and spices that are not found in the authentic Italian recipe.
The Italian method of making this dish allows the simple flavors of the existing ingredients to really standout on their own, and does not require heavy use of spices.
Using a small amount of sauce is key to making it the Italian way; the eggplant is the star of this dish instead of the sauce.
The final product is highly addictive and intensely flavorful with an amazing texture that is more on the crisp side.
Eggplants are a popular vegetable in Italy, particularly in Sicilian cuisine.
Their versatility and delicious taste make them an excellent ingredient in many dishes.
Preparing eggplants can be intimidating to some people, but merely understanding a few properties of this vegetable will help in their preparation. In certain dishes I admit to not treating eggplants to remove bitterness prior to cooking them, but with this recipe it is definitely worth the extra time.
As a general rule, if you are frying eggplants it is a good idea to treat them for bitterness first.
Particularly in parmigiana, you run the risk of ruining the entire dish if your eggplants happen to be bitter. I learned the salting method for removing bitterness by my Sicilian mother, but there is also a method that involves freezing them.
Regardless of the method you use, the idea is to leach the juices from the eggplants that contain the bitter flavor.
Salting slices of eggplant pulls the bitter juices out of the vegetable, and then you simply wipe the liquid away with a clean kitchen cloth.
I like to pat them dry while adding some pressure to squeeze out any remaining juices trapped in the eggplant.
Doing this will also crush some of the sponge-like cells contained in the eggplant, which keeps them from soaking up as much oil during the frying process.
- 2 medium eggplants
- vegetable oil for frying
- approximately 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- olive oil
- 3 cups previously homemade tomato sauce
- thin slices of mozzarella (to taste)
- grated parmigiano reggiano(to taste)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
If you do not have any previously homemade tomato sauce ready, start by making some as instructed by the recipe here.
It’s a quick and easy recipe to make and much, much better than store bought tomato sauce.
While the sauce is cooking you can begin preparing your eggplants.
To prepare the eggplants and leach any bitterness, cut them into very thin horizontal slices and place them in a colander in flat layers, sprinkling coarse salt in between each layer.
Cover the last layer of eggplant with a plate and then place something heavy on top to add weight onto it.
I usually use a small marble mortar and pestal that I have in my kitchen, but you can be resourceful and use whatever works for you.
The heavy weight assists in leaching the bitter juices out of the vegetable.
Leave the eggplants to sit for about an hour, then pat away the liquid from each slice using a clean, dry kitchen cloth to remove moisture.
Fry the slices of eggplant a few at a time in vegetable oil until golden brown. Drain and pat out excess oil.
Preheat oven to 350.
Lightly oil the bottom of a 7×11 or similar sized baking dish with olive oil and coat with bread crumbs.
Place a layer of the fried eggplant slices at the bottom of the baking dish, next add a layer of tomato sauce, then top with grated parmigiano and a layer of sliced mozzarella.
Continue making layers until you run out of ingredients, finishing with a layer of eggplant.
Pour the beaten egg over the entire dish, ensuring that the surface is evenly coated (sometimes a basting brush is helpful), then dust the top lightly with the remaining bread crumbs.
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Let cool completely before serving.
Source and picture Monte Nero